I’m a believer in getting the safest, most productive running backs as early as you can in fantasy football drafts. I’m also a believer in taking high upside running backs later in drafts. Whether you roll with the straight up RB-early strategy, the Zero Running Back Theory or find yourself falling somewhere in the middle, you can bite off a piece of logic here, one way or the other. The point, regardless of your strategy, is that there is always some sweet value to be had late in fantasy drafts. You just need to know when and where to look for it.
ADP (average draft position) is the starting point of info that helps us have a rough idea as to player value and where we can expect certain guys to fall. It’s not an exact science and relying on it can crush your soul during drafts, but it also can help you map out a stacked bench. You won’t want to go rogue and get all of these guys, but based on 2015 ADP, at least a few of these guys are going to be major value buys. Let’s break each down and see why you may want to draft them this summer:
Melvin Gordon, RB, San Diego Chargers (ADP: Round 4)
The corpse of Ryan Mathews is in Philly now, which paves the way for rookie slasher Melvin Gordon to go nuts on the NFL. He has some issues when it comes to ball control and pass protection, but San Diego badly needs him to be their feature back. He has feature back ability, natural cutting ability, vision and speed to be a total stud right away. He’s probably more of a RB2 than a RB1 to get going as a rookie, but finding that in the middle of round four is what steals are all about.
Todd Gurley, RB, St. Louis Rams (ADP: Round 6)
Gurley is an even better talent than Gordon and you can get him two rounds later. His recovery from a torn ACL is obviously a red flag and Tre Mason provides some competition, but the Rams drafted him to be a work horse and eventually he’ll be just that. If you’re getting him in round six you’re not worried about a slow start or a few missed games. The upside is worth it.
T.J. Yeldon, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars (ADP: Round 7)
Even better could be Yeldon, who is a masher with solid quickness and the skill-set to be a true every down back. Jacksonville being awful and having shaky o-line play are two general complaints that can’t be ignored, but Yeldon is the real deal and he’s going to get a full load immediately. There’s not a ton of risk here if his ADP stays anywhere past round five.
Joseph Randle, RB, Dallas Cowboys (ADP: Round 7)
You trust Darren McFadden to stay healthy? Me neither. He is probably the guy with more upside (round five ADP) in this system, but his injury history is sketchy as balls. Randle isn’t a freak talent by any stretch of the imagination, but he does a solid job at taking what is blocked for him and he was pretty productive in college. If he’s the guy, he’d have a shot at putting up solid numbers. In round seven, it’s worth a shot.
Tevin Coleman, RB, Atlanta Falcons (ADP: Round 8)
Devonta Freeman is also worth a mention (round 7 AD) and he’s the current starter, but Coleman is without a doubt the better talent and the Falcons will want him to win the job. He should, and you can get him one round later at the moment. That will change eventually, but if he’s still around after the fifth round, he’ll still represent a solid steal. He has killer upside in an offense that can already stretch the defense and just needs a boost in their rushing attack.
Charles Sims, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (ADP: Round 8)
Doug Martin looks like he’ll get the first crack at the starting gig (round 7 ADP) but the current regime didn’t draft him and he’s been pretty weak for two years in a row now. Sims hasn’t done enough to warrant a ton of confidence in him, but this regime drafted him and remains very high on him. He can be had a round later than Martin and he might end up being the guy.
Ameer Abdullah, RB, Detroit Lions (ADP: Round 9)
Joique Bell is the main man in Detroit right now but it looks like Abdullah is the future. He’s a solid stash pick here in round nine, as he’ll carve out some type of role as a rookie and is one injury away from serious value.
Duke Johnson, RB, Cleveland Browns (ADP: Round 12)
Isaiah Crowell fumbles too much and Terrance West is too inconsistent. Enter Johnson, who is lightning in a bottle and can simply do everything these other two guys can’t. Cleveland can be a nightmare in terms of predicting who their running backs will be and how they’ll produce, but you can rest easy with this 12th round ADP. He’ll surely climb in the coming months, but I love him anywhere past round seven.
Ronnie Hillman, RB, Denver Broncos (ADP: Round 13)
Denver’s running backs seem to rotate with the seasons, whether by injury or play, so the door remains open to Hillman being the steal of all steals. We can’t forget how awesome he was for a small stretch last year and how quickly things can change if current starter C.J. Anderson gets hurt or falters. Montee Ball (round 12) can be thrown in the discussion, too, but Hillman is the far more tantalizing talent.
Danny Woodhead, RB, San Diego Chargers (ADP: Round 13)
Woodhead isn’t a bad handcuff for Gordon owners, but his real value comes in PPR leagues or as a Flex play. He’s been a huge part of what San Diego does and despite his age and breaking his leg last year, he should be in for a big role again in 2015. If that’s the case, he shouldn’t be lasting all the way to round 13.